Writing life: Gill Sims
The bestselling author on how the reality of family life shattered her dreams of being a 'lady writer'
I always envisaged lady writers writing at elegant bureaus, possibly in their morning rooms (I am not even entirely certain what a morning room is, but they sound like useful places to create timeless works of deathless prose) or their library, or at the very least, in a pleasantly book lined study. Occasionally, they would down their fountain pen (filled with green ink, obviously) and waft graciously (a lady writer would never do anything as mundane as merely walking, wafting from room to room was clearly the only option for perambulation) to the drawing room, to sip a gin and tonic, while looking pensive and intellectual, before dashing off a few more passages, and then spending the evening in earnest and scholarly debate about Art and Literature and Politics. Gentlemen writers meanwhile were no doubt engaged in manly bouts of bashing away at old fashioned typewriters, a cigarette clenched between their teeth and a glass of whisky (or whiskey, depending on location) by their side.
Imagine then my distress when I discovered that life as a lady writer mainly consisted of slumping on the sofa in my distinctly shabby (and not in a chic way) sitting room, staring hopelessly at a laptop, while a slightly damp and somewhat malodorous Border Terrier attempted to push the computer off my knee so he could sit on it, ideally smashing the laptop in the process so all my attention could be focused on him! Rudely, no morning room or study magically attached itself to my house as I had assumed would happen when I got a book deal, and my house stayed exactly the same! I was outraged! The gin and tonics did materialise (well, I made them for myself) along with a lot of cups of strong tea, and possibly rather too many Mint Clubs, but they tended to be gulped while exhorting my darling children to try not to smear tomato sauce up the walls, rather than pensively sipped upon. And the closest I came to earnest debate was ranting at my husband about why Wheeler Dealers is pants, and complaining about him finding yet another episode to watch.
But maybe that’s what keeps my books relatable to all the equally frazzled parents out there? Maybe if they had been written in the calm quiet of the morning room, without that family chaos raging around me, they wouldn’t quite capture the bedlam of ordinary life? I’m sure we’ve all read books with child characters who come out with the most precocious statements at the age of three, but the childless author doesn’t realise how unrealistic that is, and that most three year old are busy rolling around on the floor wetting themselves (sometimes literally) laughing because someone said ‘poo’! Whereas, when every paragraph you write is interspersed with shouting ‘PLEASE STOP HITTING YOUR BROTHER, AND JUST GIVE ME FIVE MINUTES TO FINISH THIS!’ it is much easier to capture the reality. Of course, my books are fiction (my husband insists I must keep stressing this), but the vibe of never quite being on top of everything no matter how hard you try, and of the daily battle against lost shoes and permission slips and warring siblings and incessant noise is one that runs through almost every family in the land, including mine. So perhaps I should just embrace it, and be grateful that the pandemonium at least gives me plenty of inspiration!
I still really want a morning room though.
Gill Sims is the author of the Sunday Times bestseller Why Mummy Drinks. Its follow-up, Why Mummy Swears, is published by HarperCollins on 12 July
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